Hundreds of kids crowded the hallways, hotel rooms and lobby at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg on Saturday, plotting their moves and reviewing strategy for the state chess championships.
Some used chessboards and handwritten notations to review their previous match and prepare for their next opponent, similar to a football team watching video the Monday after a game. Others recounted their moves using computers, tablets or cellphones.
The bustle belied the quiet solemnity in the hotel's grand ballroom, where rows and rows of tables were set with chessboards and about 750 competitors from kindergarten through eighth grade sparred in the Illinois State Chess Championship. In there, the kids were on their own. No coaches or parents. No teammates.
"There's so many pieces, so many choices, and one wrong move could ruin your whole chance of winning," said Vera Tax, an 11-year-old member of the chess club at Longfellow Elementary School in Wheaton.
For the record, Tax did not ruin her chance of winning in her first match. She won the back-and-forth contest that lasted more than an hour.
With each opponent allotted a total of 55 minutes make their moves, a single match can last nearly two hours. Competitors played four matches Saturday and three more Sunday, an arduous tournament to determine team and individual champions.
They came from across the state, from southern Illinois to the suburbs. About 80 kids from low-income, inner-city households competed thanks to $8,000 in scholarships from the Chicago Chess Foundation.
The key to success at this level of competition is patience, said Kevin Cahill, the coach of the Longfellow Chess Club.
"We want them to really slow down and take their time and contemplate their moves," Cahill said.
However, one of Cahill's students, Chloe Carlson, 10, made quick work of her first opponent, winning the match in about 25 minutes. Sitting in her team's break room, Chloe recounted the quick match alongside her teammate, Vera, and father, Dave Carlson.
It was just a year ago that she started playing chess, but the improvement has been swift.
"He won most of the time," Chloe said of her earliest matches against her father.
"Not anymore," Carlson said. "She beats me. Pretty quickly."